Volunteers are the back bone of our communities -- they make Verona and Cedar Grove the wonderful towns that they are. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove will recognize the volunteers that support and inspire our residents in an ongoing "Volunteer Spotlight" series. If you have a suggestion of a individual or organization that deserves recognition send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
VERONA, NJ - One Verona resident not only helps people as her career, but also chooses to help her community in her free time.
Verona native Michele Kiernan has called the town her home for 53 years. She was born in town, grew up in town, and besides attending college at Villanova University, has lived in town her whole life. Now, she is giving back to the community that has given her so much by volunteering in countless organizations and making a difference in so many lives.
For Kiernan, dedicating so much of her time is easy when it is for a town like Verona.
“I love Verona. I like the small town feel, and I joke with people that we live in Mayberry,” Kiernan said. “People are very, very good to each other.”
Kiernan herself knows a thing or two about being good to others, as she is a registered nurse at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in the ambulatory care center, where her daughter Katie Kiernan also works as a registered nurse.
The mother of four lives in town with her husband Tom Kiernan and her two sons and two daughters. Katie Kiernan is Kiernan’s oldest child, followed by son Timmy Kiernan, a graduate of Seton Hall University, son Collin Kiernan, an incoming freshman baseball player on scholarship at Rutgers University, and youngest daughter Erin Kiernan, a Verona High School junior.
Kiernan has always made it a point to volunteer in organizations for her children, including the SCA for Forest Avenue School, H.B. Whitehorne Middle School and Verona High School, and various sports booster clubs.
The dedicated community member’s efforts are not limited to the schools though, as she serves as president of the pastoral council and on the advisory board of the youth ministry program at Our Lady of the Lake. Kiernan has also run several mayors’ balls, the centennial ball and planned the 100th anniversary celebration for the town. She was also a part of junior woman’s club, while her mother was in the senior woman’s club and her daughter was a juniorette.
“My favorite thing that I’m doing right now though now that my kids are almost out of high school is Minette’s Angels,” Kiernan said, adding that she got involved in the organization after being asked to sit on the board by Minette McKenna’s husband after his wife and Kiernan’s good friend died of breast cancer after a 10-year battle with the disease.
The foundation is very close to Kiernan’s heart because she has worked with breast cancer patients for much of her career at Saint Barnabas.
“We’re still very grassroots,” Kiernan said of the foundation. “We do scholarships for Verona High School seniors graduating and going into the medical field with an emphasis on nursing. We give a scholarship to a Seton Hall nursing student.”
That is not all the foundation does, though. They also send flowers and arrange rides for breast cancer patients, and send them and their families to dinner or the movie theater. They raise money for Saint Barnabas and for a fund for patients whose insurance will not cover costs or for patients who need help. They even donate fashionable robes for patients to wear while in the hospital.
Although the foundation already does so much for cancer patients, Kiernan said they want to grow even bigger so they can help even more people.
“We’re trying to get bigger,” she said. “Part of that comes with raising money to help men and women.”
Kiernan and her fellow foundation members are already planning the foundation’s big anniversary gala for next April, where they hope to raise even more money so they can continue to help as many breast cancer patients as possible.
In the meantime, Kiernan continues to dedicate her time to the town and to the many organizations she is a part of. She said it is because of her patient husband and supportive family that she is able to spend so much of her time volunteering.
“I have a wonderful, very patient husband who knows I like to do all this stuff,” Kiernan said. “I will truly miss it all when my daughter goes off to college. I love being a part of the community and the town.”
She also said having role models like her parents, who still live on Forest Avenue, has made her want to give back to the community.
“I had great role models. My parents volunteered in town,” Kiernan said. “[Volunteering] is what makes the world go ‘round. We have to help each other along the way, whether that means raising money or just being present for something. We have to show our kids that we’re connected and we have to help each other. To me, you have to teach the youth how to be a part of the community because they are our future.”
Kiernan also said being in a town with so many generous people also makes it worthwhile.
“There are thousands of Michele Kiernans volunteering,” she said. “So hats off to all of them.”